Alaska Airlines is working on ways to save a few million gallons of fuel per year. The fuel savings will not only trickle down to a passenger’s pocketbook, but it would also cut down on environmental and noise pollutions.
Throughout the summer Alaska has been testing next-generation flight procedures at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) that have been dubbed “Greener Skies.”
The new procedure breaks away from the traditional “stair-step” method of descending into an airport. With current protocol, the control tower will assign altitudes airliners will cruise at. The pilot will descend to the new altitude, increase power to maintain the altitude, and wait for the next step. The new process takes advantage of Required Navigation Performance (RNP). With RNP the decent is a smooth, linear, and controlled approach without the need to level off. Alaska says the new system could save 2.1 million gallons of fuel and 22,000 metric tons of carbon emissions per year.
Elliott Pesut, Twitterer for Alaska Airlines, pointed out to me that Alaska is the only major U.S. air carrier with a completely RNP-equipped fleet and fully trained crews. I am sure Alaska won’t be the last. Southwest Airlines recently announced their entire fleet of Boeing 737-700’s have the new technology and are in process of training their flight crews. Alaska is working to gain FAA approval to start using it by next year.
It is great to see an airline taking the leadership role of bringing this technology to the forefront and motivating others to follow suit. I hope that all aircraft at SEA will use the technology and it will spread to all airports and aircraft in the US.